Traditionally young girls stitched blackwork samplers to learn and show off patterns, alphabets and borders. You can do the same thing today with these delightful blackwork embroidery patterns.
The designs range from a small pincushion up to a large chessboard. Whether you make them into cushions (or pillows, as my American friends know them) or frame them to display on the wall, you will enjoy both the process and the finished result.
My boyfriend and I visited Rothampstead Manor where my grandfather was head gardener and his wife was the housekeeper. The owners were away for the weekend so Nanna gave us a guided tour of the house and garden. She was proud of her pantry full of bottled produce from the gardens.
I don't remember much of the grand interior but I loved the walled garden complete with a multitude of clover species. However, in my eyes, it lacked the centrepiece that was so essential to the grander houses - a knot garden.
After much deliberation, I designed the garden I envisaged and then created this sampler in coloured blackwork.
Six months after our visit my boyfriend confessed that he thought my grandparents were lord and lady of the manor, something we still laugh about today.
Mazes can be found at many stately homes, adding an extra dimension to your visit. Finding my way around a maze for the first time was a challenge that added to the excitement of the whole experience.
Imagining myself as the main character in a heart-pounding adventure through a magical forest, I found the path and explored further, hoping to find an enchanted garden at its heart.
Initially I found it difficult to work out where I was going and would often get lost. Once I worked it out, I decided to draw a map to help others who might be similarly confused.
Many imaginary maps later I turned my hand to a blackwork version, inspired by my childhood exploits. Contained within this design were representations of the pathways with a knot garden at its centre. No-one will get lost in this maze, however, as there is no way in! Oops!
A group of stitchers attended one of my blackwork embroidery classes. We met at a new venue - a student's home with a fantastic view of their garden.
Flower beds were arranged symmetrically across the four corners of the lawn, creating a central diamond of grass upon which was a garden seat. The flowers were pink and white, which created a lovely contrast.
To the outside of the beds were narrow pathways and each corner held apple trees.
It was stunning, made even more beautiful by the amount of hard work that must have been put into preparing it. The paths and flowerbeds had been meticulously cared for - a truly inspirational setting which lead to the creation of my blackwork sampler.
I chose to represent the pink and white blooms in my fabric and thread choices, but you could choose other colours if you prefer.
A gentle autumn breeze blew oak leaves through the open window of my studio. I sighed as I recalled my childhood years spent playing on and under that tree's branches. As I sat at my desk, I thought of the many times the tree had provided me with safety, shade, and innovative inspiration.
As an artist, I looked at the leaves and wondered, "Can I find a way to use these leaves in a blackwork pillow design?"
My uncle ran a pub called the Tudor Oak, and my mind somehow connected the Tudor Rose with the distinctive oak leaves. I decided on an overall repeating pattern that would feature both elements and started designing immediately.
I went with the traditional black thread on white fabric, but you could pick an autumnal shade if you prefer a touch of colour for yours.
I have vivid memories of the day I chanced upon what became my favourite shop.
It was a treasure trove of buttons, ribbons and threads of every colour. It belonged to a charming lady who told me stories of how, in days gone by, girls my age would stitch samplers to build up their skills.
"Don't touch!" exclaimed my mother, but astonishingly the lady encouraged me to pick up and examine everything. I found a shelf of tiny silver pincushions and fell in love with needlecraft and miniatures instantly.
When I designed this pincushion my initial idea was to stitch each motif separately as a dollouse pillow. However, once I started work I realised I could combine them into an elegant pincushion in an alternating checkerboard pattern.
This gives you, the stitcher, a multitude of options! How will you use the design?
I designed this blackwork chess-board with the devoted chess player in mind. In my mind's eye, I could already see the board in action, with players pitted against each other in a battle of strategy and skill. The 16 distinct blackwork patterns allow the stitcher to impart their skill to the overall design.
The surrounding chessmen are a testament to the determination that chess players bring to each match. The gold outlines around each piece bring to mind the focus of a chess master, while the black cross stitches stand for the strategic finesse of a well-played match. Every detail of this design was designed to capture the spirit of chess and bring a touch of elegance to any home.